Being a guitar player and music lover, I have been a big fan of Les Paul ever sense I became aware of him in my youth. Like most people, my first introduction to him was through his signature guitar: the Les Paul. A staple ax of rock guitarist, both early on and still today. The most cherished Les Paul guitars today are the original instruments – it’s pretty amazing when you think of how Les and the developers at Gibson got it right the first time. How many products today, especially electric products, can stand the test of time?
An inventor and innovator he truly was. Les Paul will forever be known for his role in the popularity of the electric guitar, the design of the Gibson Les Paul guitar, the multi track recording, and the early guitar effects. But his music accomplishments will also live on along side his guitar and recording inventions.
I still love listening and trying to master his licks. Like all great guitarist, he had a sound uniquely his. There is no mistaking Les’ sound. Paul was a master picker, one of the best of his generation, and was often cited as a major influence on other more famous guitarists, including Chet Atkins, who called Paul “one of my idols.” Invention and innovation it seems transcend art and science. Les Paul mastered both genres.
Necessity is the mother of invention: Les Paul’s goal was “simply to be heard.” The story goes that Paul crafted a crude version of his first electric guitar as a teenager using a phonographic needle, a telephone mouthpiece and radio speaker. The sound did get stronger, but, as Paul would recollect in Modern Guitar magazine in 2005, “I ran smack into the problem of feedback.”
According to Wikipedia –
Paul was dissatisfied with the acoustic guitars that were sold in the mid-1930s and began experimenting at home in Mahwah, New Jersey, with a few designs for an electric model on his own. Famously, he created “The Log”, which was nothing more than a length of common 4×4 lumber with a bridge, guitar neck, and pickup attached. For the sake of appearance, he attached the body of an Epiphone hollow-body guitar, sawn lengthwise with The Log in the middle. This solved his two main problems: feedback, as the acoustic body no longer resonated with the amplified sound, and sustain, as the energy of the strings was not dissipated in generating sound through the guitar body.
Paul’s innovative guitar, “The Log”, built in 1939, was one of the first solid-body electric guitars. Adolph Rickenbacker had marketed a solid-body guitar in the 1930s and Leo Fender also independently created his own in the late 1940s. Though Paul approached the Gibson Guitar Corporation with his idea of a solid body electric guitar, they showed no interest until Fender produced theirs. Gibson designed a guitar incorporating Paul’s suggestions in the early fifties and presented it to him to try. He was impressed enough to sign a contract for what became the “Les Paul” model, originally only in a “gold top” version (official name: “Les Paul Standard”), and agreed never to be seen playing in public, or be photographed, with anything other than a Gibson guitar.
If you want to know more about Les Paul the man and his invention – check out this web page posted on Gibson Guitar: The World Has Lost a Remarkable Innovator and Musician: Les Paul Passes Away at 94
Here are some fun videos of Les Paul and Les Paul guitars you might enjoy:
An inventor to the end – check out this video “The Les Paulverizer”
The world owes Les Paul immensely for his contributions to music and the tools to create music. I can’t imagine what the world would be or would sound like without his contributions.
Thank you Les, your presence will live on forever.